Black Wall Street Gets Ready For The Green

Lucy Gellman | August 16th, 2023

Black Wall Street Gets Ready For The Green

Black-owned businesses  |  Culture & Community  |  Downtown  |  Economic Development  |  Arts & Culture  |  New Haven Green  |  Arts & Anti-racism

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A Hustler's Vibe owner Rashaan Boyd. Lucy Gellman Photos.

Growing up in New Haven, Rashaan Boyd sold streetwear out of the trunk of his car, and sometimes from his home on Henry Street. Then last year, the connections he made at the city's first Black Wall Street Festival helped him launch a store on Edgewood Avenue.

Now, he's back to cheer on fellow Black entrepreneurs in the city that raised him. 

Saturday, Boyd will join over 150 Black-owned businesses, artists and entrepreneurs for the city's second annual Black Wall Street Festival, scheduled to run from noon to 8 p.m. on the New Haven Green. Organized by the city's Department of Arts, Culture and Tourism and The Breed Entertainment, the event aims to center and celebrate Black entrepreneurship and artmaking, from small-batch beauty businesses and clothing brands to award-winning drum and drill teams that showcase New Haven's youth. 

It will include 150 vendors, six hours of live music, several kinds of food, family-friendly activity centers, an economic "empowerment" tent, and a space for members of the Divine Nine to congregate and network. Musicians and performers include the Elite Drill Team, Wolfpack Drum Squad, and students from Monk Youth Jazz and STEAM Collective, as well as Ricky Alan Draughn and Tiffany Freeman among others.  

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Adriane Jefferson: Part of New Haven's vision for cultural equity. 

"The Black Wall Street Festival, what is it?" said Cultural Affairs Director Adriane Jefferson at a press conference to promote the event Wednesday morning. "It is a celebration. It is a time to come together as a community. But it's also cultural preservation. It is cultural equity. It is being able to tell our stories our way, through our mouths, and to celebrate together. We're honored to be able to do this ... the meaning behind doing this is worth more than I can even say in words."

"Black Wall Street is extremely intentional, and Adriane was totally supportive of that," said Aaron Rogers, who runs The Breed with co-founder Rashad Johnson, and thanked colleagues Rebekah Moore and Diane X. Brown specifically for their effort. "We're so excited for all that's to come for the event. This year is a whole other level from last year."  

For so many of Wednesday's speakers, the festival is a chance to honor and engage with both New Haven's Cultural Equity Plan and a rich, sometimes painful, and very much living history. For decades, the term "Black Wall Street" has been used to refer to self-sustaining Black business districts that rose across the country, many in the 19th and 20th centuries, only to be systematically and violently destroyed by white people and urban renewal projects.

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Top:  The Breed's Rashad Johnson and Aaron Rogers. Bottom: "Wealth begets wealth," said Mayor Justin Elicker on the importance of cultivating and supporting Black businesses in New Haven. "!hen there are people that are wealthy, it is highly, highly likely that their children are wealthy, and that their children's children are wealthy, and that that cycle reinforces itself over time."

They include not only Tulsa's now-legendary Greenwood District, but also Oscarville, Georgia, Richmond, Virginia, Detroit's Black Bottom neighborhood, and New Haven's own Dixwell Avenue among dozens of others. In more recent years, the term has become an act of reclamation: Black Wall Street festivals and fairs have appeared across the country, amplifying Black business owners who for too long have been relegated to the historical and economic margins. 


Last year, New Haven officially became part of that history with the city's inaugural festival, which featured three dozen vendors and live music on Temple Plaza, just blocks away from the Green. This year, it returns with a footprint that is over four times larger, and partnerships that range from the Connecticut Community Outreach Revitalization Program (ConnCORP) to the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven.

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"They will make history right here on the New Haven Green on this upcoming Saturday."

Stetson Library Branch Manager Diane X. Brown, who consults as An Urban Librarian and worked on the recruitment and registration of vendors, said she is extremely proud to see young Black creatives and professionals leading the way.

As a lifelong New Havener who remembers what Dixwell once was, turned a library into a de facto community center, and has supported Black-led revitalization efforts in recent years—she painted it as a full-circle sort of moment. 

"I've worked with many teams over the years, and I can honestly say, this is at the top of the list," she said. "They will make history right here on the New Haven Green on this upcoming Saturday."

Part of that, speakers also noted, is the power of a single dollar—let alone $10, or $20, or $50—spent within a specific community, rather than outside of it. Arthur Thomas, director of entrepreneurial initiatives and inclusive economic opportunity at The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, noted that one dollar spent in Tulsa's Greenwood district often circulated "36 to 100 times" within the community.

It's a system that he wants to see replicated today, with programs like the New Haven Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

He wasn't alone. Jesse Phillips, coordinator of inclusive growth at the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, pointed to the 243 Black-owned businesses that once existed in Greenwood, destroyed by bombing and white mob violence in 1921, and then again by urban renewal in the 1960s. In New Haven, he said, it's worth thinking about how to support those businesses in the long term, whether they are already standing in one of the city's neighborhoods, or are just starting to bloom into being. 

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Rosetta Washington.

Nowhere was that feeling clearer than in the comments of Black business owners who will be part of Saturday's festivities. Rosetta Washington, the founder and owner of Wholesome Approach, joked that she wasn't sure what she was more excited about—getting the word out about her beauty consultation business, or shopping from other Black entrepreneurs in the community. She pointed to Saturday—"let me tell you, there is literally something for everyone"—as a chance to support Black business owners across the community.  

27-year-old Boyd, who grew up with his grandmother in a housing co-op at 99 Edgewood Ave., said he's thrilled to be back for the second year in a row—this time with a brick-and-mortar storefront that shows how far he's come. Last year, he attended Black Wall Street as a vendor, and started making connections that helped him get a business idea off the ground. In May, he launched his store, A Hustler's Vibe, at 162 Edgewood Ave.  

He thinks of Black Wall Street as a testament to those whose shoulders he stands on, he said—and takes seriously the responsibility to continue that work. As a kid, Rogers mentored him when he was a student in Leadership, Education, Athletics in Partnership (LEAP). After a friend suggested that he design streetwear, he started small, with pop-up sales that happened out of the trunk of his car.

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Top: Lindy Lee Gold, a senior development specialist with the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (CT DECD) who and is also a member of New Haven's Cultural Affairs Commission. "This is really a reflection of the values of this city," she said, adding that CT DECD is proud to provide both grants and loan funding for women- and minority-owned small businesses. Bottom: The Black Wall Street crew.

The brand grew: sometimes he sold in front of his home on New Haven's Henry Street, and sometimes pop ups led him out of the state altogether. He said he's extremely excited to be giving back to the community, which he's done for years with Thanksgiving and back-to-school drives, and can now run from his Edgewood storefront.   

"I'm the voice of the young entrepreneurs in New Haven," he said. "These events are vital to what we're trying to do ... we're trying to go from out your trunk to a storefront, collaboration over competition. Networking is key. Relationships are worth more than money—they'll take you so far." 

"It's been a long road," he added. "A long time coming."

Learn more about New Haven's second annual Black Wall Street Festival, scheduled for noon to 8 p.m. Saturday Aug. 19 on the New Haven Green, here or here. For more from the press conference, watch the embedded video to the left.